Monday, November 22, 2010

Minnesota Redistricting Forum Overview

On the 17th of November the Humphrey Institute hosted "Redrawing the Boundaries: A Redistricting Workshop for Minnesota Citizens, Grassroots Organizers and Policy Advocates."

The presenters at the forum came from a diverse collection of organizations; Common Cause Minnesota, The Brennan Center for Justice, George Mason University, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, League of Women Voters, Minnesota Senate Counsel and the Citizens League.

In this post I will give you an overview of the event; what the presentations were about and some of the highlights. In the future I plan to get into more detail on many of these topics.

Redistricting 101
Myrna Perez, Brennan Center for Justice

Exactly what it sounds like, this presentation was a great discussion of redistricting and it's modern implications going through the who, what, when, where, why and hows of a complex process.

There's video of the presentation (given by a different presenter) at

The part of the presentation I found particularly interesting was the discussion of the importance of compactness or lack thereof. When districts are neat squares everyone is happy, but does a perfect square (or circle) best represent a congressional district?

Redistricting in Minnesota
Peter Wattson, Minnesota Senate Council

The sorted history of Minnesota redistricting was related by someone who was there for most of it. From lawsuits, to veto's, to courts overreaching, to more lawsuits, to veto's not being turned in on time and once again courts overreaching.

The end result is that the last four Minnesota redistricting plans have been drawn by the courts and not the legislature.

Redistricting and the Voting Rights Act
Dale Ho, NAACP Legal Defense Fund

The Voting Rights Act is the only guideline enforced by the Federal Government aside from equal population, which is always the overriding concern of any redistricting plan.

Some districts that appear to be partisan gerrymanders are in fact drawn for purposes of the voting rights act, so again, appearance is not everything when it comes to redistricting.

When Texas rammed a mid-decade redistricting plan through in 2003, the only thing the US Supreme Court found objectionable was congressional district 23, which they felt violated the voting rights act by diluting the states large Hispanic population.

That said, the burden of proof for a voting rights act claim is very strict and there are no clear answers, every case is judged on it's own merits.

Status of proposed reforms for Minnesota
Mike Dean, Common Cause Minnesota

While redistricting reform was approved by the voters in Minneapolis, Larry Pogemiller's statewide redistricting reform bill passed the Senate but never found a house sponsor.

Did the DFL let it die because they thought they would control of both chambers and the Governor's mansion in 2010 and could therefore draw the map they wanted?

The prospects for reform are not dead however, after the current redistricting acrimony is behind us the prospects for passing some sort of reform bill will likely improve, with the next redrawing of the map still far in the future.

Bring Your Laptop to Lunch (my little joke)
Prof. Michael McDonald, George Mason University

For those who were interested during the lunch break there was the option of attending a demo of a redistricting software package created by Prof. McDonald and others.

For the demo we got to play around with Ohio, but the program is nice and can do block and tract level adjustments.

Breakout Sessions and Happy Hour

After this were breakout sessions that went along two tracks, Policy and Grassroots. These were more focused discussions on specific areas of redistricting and reform.

And because they knew I was coming, they hosted a happy hour at Town Hall Brewery afterwards. Mmm, Masala Mama.

If you attended the event I'd like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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